Real Living

Jesus said, “Beware! Don’t always be wishing for what you don’t have. For real life and real living are not related to how rich we are.”
Luke 12:15 TLB

Luke 13:13-21

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“Don’t always be wishing for what you don’t have. For real life and real living are not related to how rich we are.” (Luke 13:15 TLB)

The Message version of this verse says, “Life is not defined by what you have, even if you have a lot.” What makes for real life and real living?  

There’s a Roman proverb that says money is like seawater – the more you drink, the thirstier you become. It’s tough to disconnect ourselves from our stuff. Our lives are very much about how we make a living.  That phrase, to make a living, is about making enough money to pay for the things you need to stay alive, like food, clothing, and a place to live.  Our self-worth gets quite tied up in how we’re doing with that.  The reality is that some struggle to support themselves, and some easily make enough to support their entire family and still have more left over.

We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give — Winston Churchill

Jesus says that real living is not about how rich we are, and then tells the story about the rich man whose farm does so well that he tears down his barns and builds bigger ones so that he’ll have enough room to store all that his farm has produced.

What would you do if you were that rich person?

Have you ever been in a similar situation?  What did you do?

Did you notice that the story says that the farm produced well, not that the man produced well.[1] Does that give us any ideas about what the man could have done differently?

This story is similar in some ways to the story of Joseph in Genesis.  Joseph ends up in prison in Egypt, and what gets him out of prison is that he’s able to interpret a dream the pharaoh has. Joseph tells the pharaoh that it’s a prophecy about a famine that’s coming and tells him what to do to survive the famine (Gen. 41). So the pharaoh puts Joseph in charge, and they store up surplus grain to save for the coming famine.  But when the famine hits and the people are starving and need help, Joseph doesn’t give away the surplus grain the pharaoh has been saving, he sells it to them.  But the famine continues and the people run out of money, so they bring their livestock to exchange for grain.  But the famine still continues, so the people give pharaoh their land and their lives for grain, and so the entire kingdom becomes enslaved to the pharaoh.  Now pharaoh owns all the land and all the people.  The people work the land for the pharaoh and the deal is they can keep 4/5 of what they produce, but 1/5 must be given to the pharaoh. (Gen. 47) That sounds fair, right?  Does it really?  Everyone is enslaved!  That doesn’t sound right at all.

Joseph, like the farmer in today’s story, built bigger barns to hold all the surplus, but what he should have built was a better distribution system.

We still struggle with how to do things better today.  Many people are held captive by the ways they make a living or by the people who employ them – trapped in our systems. The Pharaoh in the story of Joseph and the rich man in today’s parable were the ones to benefit at the expense of others, and that still happens today.  One way to counteract that is to change our paradigm. 

Malcolm Forbes is famous for saying, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.”  What if the winner were to actually be the one who gives away the most?  What if we could all be winners?

John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, had a rule for himself to save all he could and to give all he could.  Here’s how he accomplished that.  When he started out earning a living, he made 30 pounds a year. He lived on 28 pounds and gave 2 pounds away.  As his income increased, he continued to live on 28 pounds and gave the rest away.[2]

That sounds like it would be hard to do. 

What if we think of it like Stone Soup?

Let’s read the story….

Three soldiers trudged down a road in a strange country. They were on their way home from the wars. Besides being tired, they were hungry. In fact, they had eaten nothing for two days.

“How I would like a good dinner tonight,” said the first.

“And a bed to sleep in,” said the second.

“But all that is impossible,” said the third. “We must march on.”

On they marched. Suddenly, ahead of them they saw the lights of a village.

“Maybe we’ll find a bite to eat there,” said the first.

“And a loft to sleep in,” said the second.

“No harm in asking,” said the third.

Now the peasants of that place feared strangers. When they heard that three soldiers were coming down the road, they talked among themselves.

“Here come three soldiers. Soldiers are always hungry. But we have little enough for ourselves.” And they hurried to hide their food.

They pushed the sacks of barley under the hay in the lofts. They lowered buckets of milk down the wells.

They spread old quilts over the carrot bins. They hid their cabbages and potatoes under the beds. They hung their meat in the cellars.

They hid all they had to eat. Then – they waited.

“…they hurried to hide their food.”  What were they afraid of?  What would we do?

The soldiers stopped first at the house of Paul and Francoise.

“Good evening to you,” they said. “Could you spare a bit of food for three hungry soldiers?”

“We have had no food for ourselves for three days,” said Paul. Francoise made a sad face. “It has been a poor harvest.”

The three soldiers went on the house of Albert and Louise.

“Could you spare a bit of food? And have you some corner where we could sleep for the night?”

“Oh no,” said Albert. “We gave all we could spare to soldiers who came before you.”

“Our beds are full,” said Louise.

At Vincent and Marie’s the answer was the same.  It had been a poor harvest and all the grain must be kept for seed.

So it went all through the village. Not a peasant had any food to give away. They all had good reasons. One family had to use the grain for feed. Another had an old sick father to care for. All had too many mouths to fill.

The villagers stood in the street and sighed. The looked as hungry as they could.

The three soldiers talked together.

Then the first soldier called out, “Good people!” The peasants drew near.

“We are three hungry soldiers in a strange land. We have asked you for food and you have no food. Well then, we’ll have to make stone soup.”

The peasants stared.

Stone soup? That would be something to know about.

“First, we’ll need a large iron pot,” the soldiers said.

The peasants brought the largest pot they could find. How else to cook enough?

“That’s none too large,” said the soldiers. “But it will do. And now, water to fill it and a fire to heat it.”

It took many buckets of water to fill the pot. A fire was built on the village square and the pot was set to boil.

“And now,  if you please, three round, smooth stones.”

Those were easy enough to find.

The peasants’ eyes grew round as they watched the soldiers drop the stones into the pot.

“Any soup needs salt and pepper,” said the soldiers, as they began to stir.

Children ran to fetch salt and pepper.

“Stones like these generally make good soup. But oh, if there were carrots, it would be much better.”

“Why, I think I have a carrot or two,” said Francoise, and off she ran.

She came back with her apron fill of carrots from the bin beneath the red quilt.

“A good stone soup should have cabbage,” said the soldiers as they sliced the carrots into the pot. “But no use asking for what you don’t have.”

“I think I could find a cabbage somewhere,” said Marie and she hurried home. Back she came with three cabbages from the cupboard under the bed.

“If we only had a bit of beef and a few potatoes, this soup would be good enough for a rich man’s table”

The peasants thought that over. They remembered their potatoes and the sides of beef hanging in the cellars. They ran to fetch them.

A rich man’s soup – and all from a few stones. It seemed like magic!

“Ah,” sighed the soldiers as they stirred in the beef and potatoes, “if we only had a little barley and a cup of milk! This would be fit for the king himself. Indeed he asked for just such a soup when last he dined with us.”

The peasants looked at each other. The soldiers had entertained the king! Well!

“But – no use asking for what you don’t have,” the soldiers sighed.

The peasants brought their barley from the lofts, they brought their milk from the wells. The soldiers stirred the barley and milk into the steaming broth while the peasants stared.

At last the soup was ready.

“All of you shall taste,” the soldiers said. “But first a table must be set.”

Great tables were placed in the square. And all around were lighted torches.

Such a soup! How good it smelled! Truly fit for a king.

But then the peasants asked themselves, “Would not such a soup require bread – and a roast – and cider?” Soon a banquet was spread and everyone sat down to eat.

Never had there been such a feast. Never had the peasants tasted such soup. And fancy, made from stones!

They ate and drank and ate and drank. And after that they danced.

They danced and sang far into the night.

At last they were tired. Then the three soldiers asked, “Is there not a loft where we could sleep?”

“Let three such wise and splendid gentlemen sleep in a loft? Indeed! They must have the best beds in the village.”

So the first soldier slept in the priest’s house.

The second soldier slept in the baker’s house.

And the third soldier slept in the mayor’s house.

In the morning, the whole village gathered in the square to give them a send-off.

“Many thanks for what you have taught us,” the peasants said to the soldiers. “We shall never go hungry, now that we know how to make soup from stones.”

“Oh, it’s all in knowing how,” said the soldiers, and off they went down the road.[3]

What changed for the villagers? Why were they able to have such a feast?

They worked together. They shared what they had, and found that they had enough to share.

James 1:17  Every good thing we have comes from God.

All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, so thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord for what he’s done. (Godspell moment)

What if God gives us good things so that we can share them?

We have lots of opportunities for sharing and giving right here in our church. Can you name some?

  • Give to the ongoing budget
  • Give to special offerings
    • One Great Hour of Sharing
    • Peace and Global Witness
    • Honduras
    • Theological Education
    • Baby gift for Eric & Kareena Vogt
  • Give to special projects
    • School supplies (Goodfellows)
    • The Food Bank and the Little Free Pantry
    • Female hygiene supplies for SHS
  • Serving (giving time)
    • Visiting shut-ins and Sterling Village

There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help [people].”[4]

For it is in giving that we receive — Saint Francis of Assisi

2 Cor 9:10-11 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when your gifts are given to those who need them, they will thank God.

Let us ask God to help us see all the ways to share what we have been given.

[1] R. ALAN CULPEPPER in Long, Thomas G.; Long, Thomas G.. Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship (p. 214). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[2] William Barclay, The Daily Living Bible: The Gospel of Luke (Philadelphia, Westminster Press: 1956), pg. 168.

[3]  “Stone Soup” by Marcia Brown, Atheneum Books, (c) 1975 by Marcia Brown   Pictures from the Alladin Press version ©1947

[4] Jenny Santi, “The Secret to Happiness is Helping Others,” Time Magazine

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